Solve an ongoing consumer problem with a business seller
There are steps you can take if you’ve approached a business seller about a problem with a product or service and you’re not getting anywhere.
You must follow step 1 before you do anything else.
Your consumer rights might have changed
The UK has left the EU. Your consumer rights might have changed if you buy online from a company based in the EU.
Step 1 - make a formal complaint
Before contacting the seller, check if they have an official complaints procedure. You can usually find a seller’s complaints procedure on their website - make sure you follow it when you complain.
It’s best to email or write to the seller - you can use a template letter.
If you paid with a credit card or debit card
You should send a copy of your complaint letter to the seller that issued your card. This will help if you decide to make a ‘section 75’ or ‘chargeback’ claim later on.
If your purchase was financed by hire purchase or conditional sale
You need to write to the finance company - not the seller. Check your paperwork if you're not sure what type of finance you have.
Make sure you keep a copy of anything you send, in case you need to check it later.
If you’re not happy with the response
You should ask the seller for a final response (sometimes called a ‘letter of deadlock’), which will confirm that they haven’t been able to resolve your complaint.
A final response is proof that you’ve already tried making a formal complaint - you’ll need it if you try other ways to sort out the problem.
Step 2 - check if the seller belongs to a trade association
If the seller is a member of a trade association, they might have to follow certain rules. If they've broken the rules, you could get help from the trade association to take your complaint further.
Look on the seller’s website to find out if they’re a member of a trade association - or contact them if you can’t find anything.
Get in touch with the trade association, explain your situation and ask if they can advise you on what to do next.
Step 3 - ask your card provider or PayPal to help
You might be able to get your money back if you paid by card or PayPal.
If you haven’t already sent your card provider or PayPal a copy of your complaint letter to the company, send one now - and let them know what response you’ve had.
Step 4 - check if you can use 'alternative dispute resolution' (ADR)
Some sellers belong to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme, which means they offer a way to solve your problem without going to court.
If you use ADR a person or an organisation will either:
- try to help you and the seller come to an agreement - this is sometimes called ‘mediation’ or ‘conciliation’
- look at the evidence and make a decision about your complaint - this is usually done by an arbitrator, adjudicator or ombudsman
Coronavirus - using ADR schemes
The ADR scheme you need might have made changes to their service because of coronavirus. Go to the ADR scheme’s website to check:
- the best ways to contact them at the moment
- if they’ve changed the process
If you use an arbitrator, adjudicator or ombudsman they will look at the evidence and make a decision about your complaint - see our guidance about complaining to an ombudsman.
If you're thinking of taking a seller to court, you should try using ADR first - a judge will usually expect you to have done this.
If you’ve already been through a complaints process with a trade association you should find out if it was ADR. You can’t usually use ADR more than once, but it’s worth checking the scheme’s terms and conditions to make sure.
You should be able to find out if the seller has an ADR scheme by checking their:
- website - try searching for ‘dispute resolution’ or ‘complaints procedure’
- ‘terms and conditions’, either on their website or in any emails or paperwork they’ve sent you
If you can’t see anything about ADR, look for phrases like ‘what to do if you’re still unhappy’ or ‘escalating your complaint’. If it says your complaint will be passed on to another organisation, it’s likely to be an ADR scheme.
Contact the seller if you’re still not sure - you should find contact details on their website.
Keep a record of any contact you have with the seller about using ADR - you’ll need it if you end up taking your case to court.
Send your complaint to the seller’s ADR scheme
The first thing you should do is check the scheme’s rules on its website. Make sure you’ve followed all the rules before you send your complaint.
Send your complaint to the ADR scheme by post or through its website, along with any supporting documents like letters or photos.
Once you’ve sent your complaint, the ADR scheme has to deal with your case within 90 days. If they can’t take on your complaint they have to let you know within 3 weeks.
If the seller doesn’t have an ADR scheme
Ask them if they’d be willing to use ADR - if they are they should find a scheme and let you know how to contact it.
You can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service instead of using ADR if the seller says no (or they don’t reply) and you paid in one of these ways:
- by credit card or debit card
- using Paypal
- using a mobile payment service, for example Apple Pay
- through a finance agreement
If you’re complaining to the Financial Ombudsman and it’s urgent, for example you’re seriously ill or facing repossession, contact the Financial Ombudsman Service straight away.
You can find more information about what they’ll do to help you sooner.
Step 5 - make a court claim
You can make a claim to the court if your problem hasn’t been resolved - this is sometimes called making a ‘small claim’.
Going to court can be stressful and time consuming - it’s probably only worth doing this if the item was particularly expensive.
If you used alternative dispute resolution (ADR) the court will take the ADR scheme’s decision into account.
Read more about making a small claim.
Get more help
Contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline if you need more help - a trained adviser can give you advice over the phone or by email.